In an instant, I identified with the melodramatic Renaissance paintings for which I had always held a flippant attitude. Raphael’s "The Deposition." Botticelli’s "Lamentation Over Christ." It was the moment I had always dreaded and it was my greatest fear. My ailing granddad closed his beautiful pale blue eyes for the last time on the evening of Saturday, May 2nd, 2020.
Nothing prepares you for the loss of a loved one. Not the knowledge that their heart and kidneys are on their last legs nor the blessing of being able to spend every last moment with them. I screamed to fill the void.
"Nika, play something for him."
It was a request from my aunt, who slammed on the gas in Greenpoint when we called and didn’t slow down until she arrived in Flatbush. As Saturday pooled into Sunday, I pulled out Mieczysław Fogg’s "The Last Sunday." I identified with, once again, why music at funerals is so slow.
Today is the last Sunday
Today we part each other
Today we leave each other
For eternal time
Hearing is the last of the five senses to go when you die. Given that my Dziadzia was hard-of-hearing, I expressed the full range of anguish with my voice and exerted the weight of my fingers onto the keyboard, clutching at the hope that I could reach him one last time.
Over the following days, our sense of hearing became a means of healing. I replaced my granddad’s place on his bed and before we fell asleep for the night, my grandmother and I belted out Adam Aston’s "Play, Fiddler, Play." She recalled the lyrics from vinyl records playing before the war hit Poland:
Let their tears fall
Against the chilling tango
For such interpretation
I would give away my heart
One morning I woke up and thought to myself that I might one day feel happiness again.
Since my grandfather’s passing, I’ve used my voice as a method of musical expression and emotional therapy. I’ve covered six showtunes and counting, one of which I sent to over a dozen of my teachers as a gift for all they’ve given me. I’ve recruited my brother to sing the harmonies I couldn’t reach. I’ve invited my grandma to sing with me, always, because singing brings her immense joy.
Life has its ups and its downs--loss is inevitable. As I grieved, I found comfort in spreading joy through music. I found out that some of my teachers recently had lost their loved ones, too, and that my recordings brought them comfort as well. I’m aware that I can’t take away a person’s pain, but if I can relate to them through the shared experience of song, then I will sing with them as much as I can.